Durham has spent millions on lacrosse case

February 25, 2011 2:39:32 PM PST
The City of Durham has already spent nearly $4 million defending itself against two lawsuits stemming from the infamous Duke Lacrosse case, and neither has even made it to trial.

The word comes amid reports that Duke University has paid out millions more in settlements.

It's been more than three years since three exonerated players slapped the city with a federal civil rights claim and more than two years since dozens of unindicted players filed suit as well.

Former federal prosecutor Dan Boyce is not affiliated with either lawsuit, but has tried his share of federal civil cases. The delay, he says, could be part strategy.

"Many attorneys jokingly refer to the "P" in plaintiff as "push" and the "D" in defendant as "delay," he explained. "There's all these ways that a defendant can get a case stalled. They hope a defendant runs out of money, gets tired of it, or gives up."

But there may be no chance of that considering a recent report in the Detroit News that the three falsely accused players netted settlements as high as $20 million from Duke University.

So far, Durham taxpayers have spent $500,000 defending the city against the lawsuits. That's the city's deductible for legal insurance. As of last month, the city's insurer had forked over nearly $3.8 million in attorney's fees. But that coverage caps at $5 million.

The clock is ticking and so is taxpayer money.

According to legal experts, the lawsuits are complex. Multiple parties means multiple attorneys. The city alone has retained about a dozen lawyers. And then there's the judicial system itself, at the mercy of limited staffing.

"The federal system in large part has quite a few criminal cases. Obviously, their priority is to get criminal cases through the system," Boyce explained.

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